bill benter

It’s suggested by some that Bill Benter is the world’s most successful gambler. While estimates of his fortune are largely speculation, there’s no doubt that he’s one of the founding fathers of computer-based statistical modelling in gambling.

Benter grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and always had a mathematical mind. He studied physics at university, but his destiny changed when he came across a copy of the famous gambling bible ‘Beat the Dealer’, by Edward Thorp.

Las Vegas

Bill Benter wanted to use his mathematical prowess to profit. He predictably chose Las Vegas as the best place to test out his skills. He memorised every detail of Thorp’s book and started out by taking on the blackjack tables.

Winning blackjack players gain an edge over the house by counting cards. This involves tracking the ratio of high and low cards that come out of the deck. When there are a high ratio of high-value cards such as 10s and aces, you gain an edge if you play the optimal strategy (known as basic strategy). Benter spent seven years in Vegas and reportedly won a considerable sum of money before he was banned by all casinos

While it’s little more than speculation, there’s also stories that during his time in Las Vegas, Benter developed a system that was able to win at roulette. The program – that he created at home – was able to calculate the speed at which the ball was spinning. Using this and the entry point of the ball, it was supposedly able to determine which quadrant it would end up in.

Meeting Alan Woods

It was around that time that Benter met a fellow blackjack professional, Alan Woods. Woods had studied to be an actuary but was an all-round gambler and a horse racing expert. The two joined forces in 1984 and set about turning their success in Vegas into a consistent edge at the racetracks of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is one of the world’s biggest horse racing markets. Crucially, there are plenty of casual punters more focused on luck than worrying about winning long-term.

Benter, Woods and a third member, Wally Sommons, worked together on a horse racing system that backed favourites. They quickly discovered that if they bet on overlays they had a decent edge. However, it took some time before their efforts were rewarded.

Over the course of two years, the team managed to give away most of their $150,000 starting bankroll. But after another couple of cash injections, they managed to get their system working. They made $100,000 profit in their third year.

Bill Benter goes solo

In 1987 the team split up following disputes over money. Benter was determined to continue on his own, taking the early model and building it into something more powerful. The focus of Benter’s model was to determine the various factors in racing and then weigh them accordingly.

The tool Benter used for this was known as multinomial logit regression. This tests factors to determine their significance as to the outcome of a race – more specifically, if it leads to the horse winning. The multinomial logit regression model then calculates the weighting of the factors.

Form factors

In the early days, Bill Benter started out with only 16 form factors to determine the outcome of a race. Many of the factors were calculated manually and databases were created from scratch. Over time the number of factors grew more than 100 as Benter incorporated not only statistics, but also video analysis and subjective form factors. Benter’s model allows him to determine the ‘true odds’ of every runner in a race and only bet on overlays. He also uses the same mathematical techniques to bet on the huge exotic pools in Hong Kong.

Since 1987 Benter’s and his team have won incredible amounts in Hong Kong. These days he also spends his time lecturing on mathematics and statistics at Harvard, Hong Kong and Southampton. Much of his time is also dedicated to philanthropy, through the Benter Foundation, and he also has a considerable presence in politics and makes regular political donations.

It’s an amazing rise from humble beginnings.

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